The trivial conversation of two strangers stalled while Anna Novak’s eyes fixed on the grizzled trunk of a coconut palm ahead of her.
They shared a table perched on the decked edge of a crowded beach café. There was a brief exchange of names…Anna Novak…Sue.
Sue was careful with giving too much information to strangers.
Anna’s new companion of a moment ago turned to follow her gaze to a small rectangular plaque drilled cruelly into the grey corrugations of the palm.
Anna’s gaze withdrew from the plaque and filtered through the canopy of a beach almond, across shadow dappled sands to the ocean and endless horizon beyond.
‘It was very difficult in Prague.’ Anna stated.
A bird landed on a leafy limb and she reached for her camera. ‘I love the birds here; do you know this bird?’
‘It’s a Lorikeet…’
‘Ah yes, I know this from Attenborough.’ Anna laughed, placing the camera in the ample cradle of her lap.
‘My father-in-law was a communist party member and my father refused to join. We were not blacklisted but we were…how do you say…grey? They never put pressure on my father because he was a worker and so he was not…you see…it did not matter to them…it was only the clever ones … teachers…doctors they wanted to keep watch on.’
Sue scanned her face as Anna’s eyes travelled back across the ocean.
‘We had to be careful what we said or spoke of with the children in case they said anything at school. So, we never spoke to them of the oppression, of how we had almost felt freedom when Dubcek led us to the Prague Spring. Now they are angry with us for not telling them.’
Sue flicked away a green ant opportunistically surveying stray croissant crumbs, hooked her hair behind her ears and checked her watch, reassuring herself that she could leave at any time she wished.
‘Then the Soviet tanks came. Line after line they went to Wenceslas Square, to the monument, the National Museum. We carried our friends and family’s bodies, and marched with flags and crosses to bury them.’
Sue felt a surge of panic. The moment to leave had been lost. Why was it that strangers always seemed to feel the need to confide in her?
‘The troops watched. Some of them could not understand, they saw that they were our communist brothers, why would we resist them.’
Children ran across the sand to leap amongst the waves.
‘People look to Communism now. It is Salon Communism. They read it. They have never lived it.’ Anna’s mouth turned down with a shrug.
Sue had owned Mao’s Little Red Book once. She had visited China as a student when the communists first opened the door to the West. Even visited a factory, and a school, where everyone clapped their hands and cheered. She had been very impressed.
She hoped her phone would ring.
A dog followed the arch of a stick across a bright cloudless sky into salty waves.
‘I dreamed of this, when I was young, in Prague. My brother escaped just before the Soviet invasion. He sent me a postcard. Now I am here, in my dream, and he is not. There are plaques like this in Prague, on walls with bullet holes. They have the names of those killed in the Soviet invasion. There are a many names.’
Sue turned again to the plaque. On it was a simple message ‘In memory of Jan Novak’
‘He was lucky, my brother Jan.’ Anna’s eyes moistened.
A mobile phone trickled the simulated sound of a waterfall.
‘I think that was your phone.’ Anna pointed to a beach bag at Sue’s feet as it faded into silence. ‘I am sorry. When I talk, I do not know when to stop.’
‘Oh, that’s fine. They’ll call back.’ Sue smiled.
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024